Author logo Media Study - Titanic

Introduction
Starting your work
Social and media context
Language
Presentational devices
Visual images
Significant achievement
Ships on film
Making a judgement
GCSE criteria: reading
GCSE criteria: writing

Introduction

This guide has been written to help you study a feature film. It is specifically written for students in England and Wales, studying media for assessed work in English in Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum (GCSE). It may be of interest to students of film generally.

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Suggested title

How has James Cameron presented and adapted the true story of the Titanic for the cinema?

Starting your work

Give a brief outline/summary of the film - do not go into detail (less than a page will do).

  • Explain that the film is based on a well-known true story.
  • Briefly write about James Cameron as director - his earlier work includes Aliens (sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien) and Terminator.

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Social and media context of the film

Social context

What is the film about - what are its subjects and themes?

  • Show how it presents the division between social classes, and criticises this.
  • Show how the film presents the captain, officers and crew of the Titanic.
Media context
  • Explain how the true story has been adapted for film - for example in creating characters who represent the upper and lower social classes.
  • Compare this film to other disaster movies set at sea (The Poseidon Adventure, White Squall).

Language

  • Comment on any interesting passages of dialogue - especially those which establish the characters of the Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), Cal, Rose's fiancÚ (Billy Zane), Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) and others.

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Presentational devices

Comment on the following, as far as you are able:

  • Structure of narrative - how the historical narrative is framed by the present-day opening and ending.
  • Music and sound FX.
  • Stunts and special effects (SFX).
  • Artistic and visual design - comment on the way the Titanic is recreated for the film, on the interior scenes, on the use of costume and other details, such as cutlery and crockery.
  • Acting - comment on the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and others.
  • Direction - comment on James Cameron's directing of the film: how does he balance the personal history of Jack and Rose with the wider historical tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic?

Visual images

Comment on the following, as far as you are able:

  • Cinematography (how shots are composed, use of colour and lighting and so on).
  • look at the way the film presents (visually) people, the ship and the sea.
  • look at use of colour, of light and shade (contrast of day and night).
  • look at the visual qualities of the film: what are the abiding images?

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Significant achievement in cinema

Why is this (or is it not) a good film? To answer this, look in more detail at the following scenes:

  • the set-up, where we see the underwater wreck of the Titanic.
  • the incident where Jack stops Rose from jumping over the ship's rail.
  • the scene where Jack sketches Rose.
  • the conclusion to the film, where Rose throws away the Coeur de la Mer.

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Ships on film

  • How well does this film compare with other films about the sea and ships (such as Mutiny on the Bounty, The Poseidon Adventure, Das Boot, White Squall and The Perfect Storm)?

Making a judgement

  • Finish your response with a personal evaluation - what you liked about the film, and why.

In writing about Titanic you may use reviews from magazines or Web sites. You are allowed to quote from these, but should show quotation with inverted commas. You may express agreement or disagreement with what you find in these reviews.

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GCSE criteria

Exam boards publish guidelines (descriptions, called criteria) for teachers, to help them award marks for speaking and listening, reading and writing. Oral coursework may be marked for speaking and listening, and for reading. Written coursework may be marked for reading and for writing.

Reading

For reading, your mark depends upon how well you do, but you must look at three things:

  • The content of the films - what they are about, and their historic and media significance.
  • Style, structure and appeal to audience.
  • Language, presentational devices and visual images - how these create emotive and persuasive effects, and relate to other media.

Writing

For writing your mark depends upon how well you do in two respects:

  • How you organize your ideas.
  • How you choose a suitable (impersonal) style and control your writing.

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© Andrew Moore, 2000; Contact me

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